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Jim France: IMSA’s blockbuster news could herald new ‘Ford v. Ferrari’ era

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jim France is hoping that Friday’s announcement of re-creating a sports car bridge from Daytona to Le Mans will resemble a recent Hollywood blockbuster

“The way I view it is if you ever catch the Ferrari vs. Ford movie where the cars went back and forth with Le Mans, that’s the era that we’re getting ready to enter into here is my optimistic hope,” said France, the chairman of IMSA and CEO of NASCAR. “I can’t control what the manufacturers do and how they approach it, but the opportunity will certainly be there.”

In a joint news conference with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (the ACO is the global sanctioning body for sports cars), IMSA announced that its new DPI car for 2022 will be eligible to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The rebranded class will be known as Le Mans Daytona h (LMD h) and allow crossover between the top categories in IMSA and the FIA World Endurance Championship (whose top division will be Hypercar). Currently, the LMP2 and GTLM classes of IMSA can run at Le Mans, but its premier division isn’t eligible for the world’s biggest sports car event.

“Ford vs. Ferrari” (an Academy Award-nominated film released last fall that stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale) chronicles a bygone era in which it was possible for a manufacturer such as Ford to win the top class of both prestigious races.

During a rare interview with reporters after the news conference, France said he is optimistic that the new regulations will goose manufacturer involvement.

“The proof will be when we have a car that wins Daytona and wins Le Mans in the same year, that’s what I’m looking forward to,” France said.

He also is “very much so” looking forward to the return of NASCAR to Daytona International Speedway next month. The Daytona 500 will kick off the Cup Series season Feb. 16.

“We’re coming off of a very good year I felt like last year where we’re really getting some momentum back,” France said. “It’s exciting now going into this coming year.”

Much of the focus is on the discussions around a possible revamping of the 2021 schedule.

“(NASCAR President) Steve Phelps is working diligently on that,” France said. “There’ll be announcements coming in the not-too-distant future.”

France said last year’s merger of NASCAR and International Speedway Corp., which had been publicly traded before the deal, provides more flexibility on the schedule.

“It makes a big difference,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to respond quicker to the changing environment out here with the economy and all the things that are going on that impact motorsports. It was a major big step that we needed to make probably for quite a while.”

Robert Wickens shares more positive strides toward recovery in new video

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Robert Wickens has made massive steps since sustaining a spinal cord injury in an Aug. 19, 2018 crash at Pocono Raceway.

Since the accident, Wickens publicly has shared his recovery, often uploading videos of his physical rehabilitation on Twitter.

In his most recent update on Wednesday, Wickens shared a video of him walking on a treadmill. Fellow NTT IndyCar Series competitor Tony Kannan, who competes in triathlons during his spare time, also was visible running on the treadmill behind Wickens.

“When I am @TonyKannan [sic] age, I hope to run as fast as him…” Wickens tweeted. “Today was a good day!”

Wickens, who will turn 31 on March 13, first made his return to the IndyCar paddock in last year’s season opener in St. Petersburg. Since then, he’s made a return to the driver’s seat, piloting a specialized Acura NSX prior to the start of last year’s IndyCar race in his hometown of Toronto.

In September, Wickens fulfilled a vow to his wife Karli, by standing with her during their wedding. The new husband and wife also danced together during their reception.

Should Wickens fully recover to resume racing, Arrow McLaren SP co-owner Sam Schmidt has stated that the team’s No. 6 entry will be available for him to drive. Wickens continues to remain as a “driver coach and consultant” for the team.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter